Among the 123 state parks scattered across Texas, Blanco State Park has a mystic feeling all its own. Fifty miles southwest of downtown Austin, the park is on the Blanco River four blocks south of the historic courthouse square.
"What makes Blanco special? It's the water, the Hill Country, it's the small-town atmosphere," says Terry Rodgers, park superintendent. "[The park] has adraw and appeal that means a lot to a lot of people."
Measuring a little less than 105 acres, Blanco claims the title of being the smallest state park which offers camping. The park makes the most of a bend in the river with three picnic areas along the banks. There are 31 campsites and seven screened shelters in the campground nestled in a grove of trees on a bluff overlooking the river.
When not swimming or fishing in the cool river, park visitors can enjoy the mile-long nature trail through the riparian forest. In a semi-arid region like the Hill Country, the unique ecosystem along the water is more evident. The park is home to swamp rabbits, bats, and beaver not normally found in the dry hills.
At least one pair of nutria live along the muddy banks. Part of a healthy ecosystem, the nutria and the porcupine are the largest members of the rodent family. At one time Rodgers had buttons made, collector's items now, that said, "Littlest park, largest rodent."
Work on the park was begun by the Civilian Conservation Corps in 1933, four months after President Franklin D. Roosevelt took office. Part of a national flood and erosion project during the Great Depression, the CCC built two small dams that keep the river at a constant depth of about waist level. One of the unique features of the two rock dams are the air vents that make them stronger during floods, Rodgers says.
The CCC's most enduring legacy is the group shelter made of native limestone. The building's handcrafted detailing, oversized roof braces, and fireplace combine the region's German architectural heritage with the National Park Service rustic styling that was prevalent during the period.
The seventh-oldest property in the state park inventory, the park opened on May 6, 1934. The maintenance barn at the east end of the park was the original entrance and headquarters. Much of the handiwork of the CCC men is still evident around the park.
By the 1960s, visitation to the hidden jewel of a park was low and the CCC-built buildings were deteriorating from neglect. Local citizens rallied to save their park when the state announced plans to let the area revert to the original owners. Led by Ira and Vivian Caswell, who staged a letter-writing campaign, area residents began promoting the facility as a "quiet, family park."
Visitation grew so large that within two years the state had given up on abandoning the facility. Caswell was hired for $210 a month as the park's only employee, but gave the money to a hired hand who helped him make repairs. There have been only nine supervisors at the park in 65 years, Rodgers says. He and his wife, writer Sheryl Smith-Rodgers, have been at the park since 1989. A native of Corpus Christi, Rodgers has been assigned to several parks, including McKinney Falls outside of Austin, but Blanco has been his favorite.
Besides being the smallest camping park, it might also be the narrowest of state parks. On the upper end of the Guadalupe River basin, floods tend to come up and go down very quickly, Rodgers says. Most of the park, with the exception of the campground, is in the flood plain. In recent years, he is seeing more runoff, probably due to increased development in the watershed area.
The original campground was at the west end of the park, which is now a group picnic area in a grove of pecan and cypress trees. The new camp area on the south side of the river was added in 1983, with modern rest rooms, showers, and shelters. At the same time, the entrance was moved to the center of the park off US281.
The park is one of those secret swimming holes in the Hill Country. Rodgers says his favorite swimming spot is below the dam on the east end of the park, where fewer people go and the bottom is rocky. Anglers prefer to hang around the low water crossing that connects the two parcels of the park. Fishermen catch crappie, bass, catfish, and perch; in the winter, the area is stocked with rainbow trout. The river at the lower end of the park is a favorite spot for beginner fly-fishermen.
Scenic and teeming with wildlife, Blanco State Park is a great place to go for an afternoon picnic and to feed the small colony of ducks or to spend a relaxing weekend. For information on camping at Blanco or any other state park, call 389-8900 or http://www.tpwd.state.tx.us. For information on the Blanco area, call the park at 230/833-4333.
Coming up this weekend ...
Bloom Fest at Rainbow Iris Farm invites you out to see the beautiful flowers, Apr. 17, 9am-4pm. To get there, take I-35 north of Georgetown, exit at FM972, go east, turn left on FM1105, go eight miles and turn right on County Road 322, turn left on CR323 to the farm. 512/338-1618.
Pie Social at Wimberley centers around home-baked pies, but there will also be music, games, face painting, plant sales, a quilt show, and a raffle. Apr. 17. http://www.wimberley.org.
A Night in Old San Antonio runs for a week along the River Walk in La Villita Historic District, Apr. 20-23. 210/226-5188.
Coming up ...
Scarborough Faire outside of Waxahachie runs every weekend through June 5 (including Memorial Day). Shop, eat, and see shows in this Victorian village. 214/938-1888.
Adopt-a-Beach cleans up the Texas coastline, Apr. 24. For a list of check-in locations, call 800/852-3224.
This Is Glory Concert by Willie Nelson and friends happens in Hillsboro to benefit the county courthouse that burned and has been rebuilt to its magnificent self. 254/582-2481.
412th in a Series. Collect them all.